The Texture of Technology

by Beth McAuley

Published at 2011-09-08

Just before the August 31 deadline for switching from analogue to digital, I phoned Bell and ordered FibeTV. Up until now I have had no cable at all, and I never thought I would want cable. In fact, if I hadn’t had to make this move, I probably wouldn’t have ordered it.
But here I was facing a choice: TV or no TV. Of course, no TV was not an option.
Over the past many years I’ve been watching just 5 channels, and I’ve managed. Admittedly, the selection was limited. Not much is on in the summer and not much is on during peak show times in the fall. Perhaps it was time for a change. Perhaps the switch to digital was pushing me in the right direction.
Just a week after I made the call to Bell, FibeTV was connected to my television and I was plugged in to an Internet Wonderland.
And it is a Wonderland. The choice is wondrous. The reception is flawless. The remote is an addictive control panel. I can record movies (10 so far). I can pause and rewind at any time. I can browse The Guide of everything that is on whilst watching something in progress. I can watch recently released movies during the week and weekend, or take in ER rerunsat 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. What more can I ask for?  
Yet, despite all the TV joy this technology has brought into my life, it has taken a bit of getting used to. At first, it felt like a stranger had moved in and was presenting me with options I wasn’t sure I liked. I felt just a bit uncomfortable with the flawless reception. It didn’t seem “real” enough. I missed the grainy texture of my analogue TV. I missed the simplicity of having only 5 channels.
Then I realized something important: I can never go back to the analogue technology. That technology is gone. Forever.
What this has made me wonder about is the advent of e-books. I don’t own an e-book. I’m too in love with paperbacks and hardcovers. I see more and more riders on the subway with digital readers, though. I wonder what they’re reading and I wonder if they miss the texture of the paper book. I know that I would miss the tactile experience of a book the most: the feel of the paper, the look of ink on the page, the design, the smell of a new book. These are the reasons why I don’t think I’ll ever take to e-books. They don’t offer me the same kind of textural experience.
I just hope that I will never be forced into having to make a similar decision as I did with TV: e-book or no book. That I would find to be absolutely impossible. I’ve made the switch to digital TV, but I’m not sure I could make the switch to digital books.
Luckily, I have a tremendous library, and, just in case this might be what we are facing down the digital road, I’m going to continue buying books in their paper formats.